Published on Pambazuka News, by Babette Zoumara and Abdul-Rauf Ibrahim, Jan 30, 2014.
Last week’s appointment of Catherine Samba Panza as CAR’s transitional president, the third female head of state in Africa, raises a glimmer of hope that this troubled nation at the heart of the continent could finally end its long history of coups, political violence, ethnic-based exclusion and grinding poverty.
- The cycle of political-military uprisings since independence has destabilized and further impoverished the Central African Republic (CAR). Currently, the overall situation in the country remains catastrophic, marked by tensions among Christians, Muslims and animists as a result of immediate former president Michel Djotodia’s inability to curb atrocities committed by his Seleka rebels leading to a precarious socio-economic situation because of deterioration of humanitarian conditions as well as insecurity. Meantime, and for the first time, a woman became the leader of the nation. Perhaps, where men have failed a woman may just succeed in bringing real and sustained unity and peace to the country for accelerated development.
WHERE AND WHEN DID IT ALL BEGIN? … //
… ETHNICITY DESTROYED THE MILITARY OF CAR:
- Indeed during the IPD, the Seleka sought for financial compensation for the rebels, the release of political prisoners, and open investigations into past crimes especially the disappearance of the former CPJP leader (Charles Massi). When General Kolingba became president in 1981, he was accused of implementing ethnocentric recruitment policies. Kolingba was from the Yakoma tribe from the south, which constituted approximately 5 percent of the total population. It is believed that during his rule, members of the Yakoma tribe were granted key positions in the administration and became majority in the military (UNHCR, 2008:19-20). This had fatal consequences later on when Kolingba was replaced by Ange-Felix Patasse, a member of a northern tribe (Melly, 2002:3). In fact, the two prominent northern presidents (Patasse and Bozize) considered the FACA, the CAR army, to be disloyal perhaps because of the role the military played during the 1996-1997 mutinies. As a result, they both equipped and ran their own ethnocentric militias outside the FACA. Therefore, the military that was supposed to protect and defend the state had no visible contributions to the governments of both Patasse and Bozize. For instance, despite the fact that Bozize was a one-time chief-of-staff of the FACA, he did not trust the FACA. He retained the defense portfolio and appointed his son (Jean-Francis Bozize) cabinet director in charge of the Ministry of Defense. Furthermore, majority of the presidential bodyguards were claimed to be Chadians and the few FACA soldiers were believed to be either from the north or members of his tribe.
REBELLION AND AGREEMENTS: … //
… THE CAR AND OUTSIDE INFLUENCE: … //
… DEADLY SITUATION: … //
… RESPONSE: ‘ANTI-BALAKA’: … //
- The current situation (religious violence, among others) may escalate to engulf the entire sub-region. This would be disastrous; for example, huge (90,000) influx of central African refugees has been reported to have crossed into Cameroon and the DRC. The displacement led to confrontations between the refuges and the local population because the refugees were claimed to exert pressure on basic services such as housing, hospitals, schools and water. Only recently, there were reports of some tensions between the refugees and the Cameroonian local population (Nouvelle Centrafrique, 2013). Furthermore, there was panic among the local population of DR Congo due to the increasing number of refugees (especially, Seleka rebels) from CAR.
- The overall situation in CAR has pushed France and the international community to intervene and secure the country after evacuating only its nationals at the heat of the fighting last year. Therefore, the Sangaris operation is more than necessary in disarming, securing and restoring peace throughout the country. The Economic Community of Central African States meeting in N’Djamena on January 12, 2014 led to the resignation of Djotodia and his PM. This is first time that a situation like this occurred in the history of CAR. Again, for the first time in its history, a woman, Madame Samba-Panza, former mayor of the capital Bangui, was elected on 20 January, 2014 as the head of state of CAR for the transitional period. Indeed, she has a huge task and many challenges but perhaps, where fathers have failed us, a mother may just succeed. She must give true meaning to the saying that ‘… to educate a woman is to educate a nation’ and may be to the popular belief that ‘what men can do, women can do better’ by uniting the nation for sustained socio-economic development and progress. To achieve this, the first hurdle for instance is for her to immediately restore peace, security and order in order to curtail all forms of violence and abuse. In this regards, restoration of the FACA, the Police and other relevant security services will be vital as well as massive education and peace campaigns. This calls for the participation of all religious leaders (Muslims, Christians and Animists), civil society, politicians, academicians, students, the media, local chiefs and tribal leaders. This would lead to sense of togetherness, safety and above all, ignite the will, zeal, passion and patriotism, confidence and determination among the citizenry for sustained peace and security. It would extinguish nepotism, discrimination, bigotry and most of all, ethnocentric tendencies which will eventually enhance nation building. Furthermore, she must institute pragmatic economic and social policies to take CAR out of its cycle of poverty. For this purpose, her administration urgently needs to build and win the confidence of domestic and foreign investors in the somehow destroyed economy of the country. Admittedly, this is the biggest challenge as such CAR under her leadership must scout (local and international) for the best brains of the country. This must be done devoid of pride, hatred, favouritism, sectionalism and of course ethnicity. She must get people who can do the job; the old and the elderly who excelled in previous administrations may still offer their experience and the young generation also have sharper and active brains coupled with the energy needed to succeed in any endeavours. Given the opportunity, the sky would be the limit for such combination. There are also successful business and entrepreneurial community who would give the nation value in any venture if offered the chance. Not to mention seasoned academics, lawyers and bankers who would help shape better future with their individual but unique skills.
- Finally, her administration needs to strategise and attract FDI or investments into effective and productive sectors such as tourism, infrastructure, road network and education. The illiteracy level in CAR is just unacceptable in this 21st century. In view of this, the CAR may perhaps take a clue from Rwanda. Rwanda came out of its troubles years ago and became a pride for many Africans. This was possible with opened minds, true forgiveness and the will and zeal to build a better and stable nation. It also invested heavily in education and communication such that today, the number of universities and the internet services in Rwanda is envied. Furthermore, Rwanda is about the only country in Africa where any African can actually collect visa at the point of entry. Policies like these (though with challenges) foster real integration and effective and free movement of goods and services for effective nation building.
- On this note, we wish Her Excellency Madame Samba-Panza well in all undertakings and to remind her that the world is watching us and that she cannot but succeed. We hope that all the people of CAR would rally behind and support her administration to succeed for unborn generations to come. We have nowhere to call home but CAR as such we must all do everything in our power, and even beyond our power (if that is possible) to see her succeed.
- ‘We hold in our hands the power to lift each other up to new heights of humanity or to let go, plunging mankind into an abyss of destruction.’ Wolfgang Riebe.
- Long live CAR!
(full long text and references).
(Babette Zoumara has a PhD in Law and Political Science and can be reached here.
Ibrahim Abdul-Rauf has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and is based in Tamale, Ghana. He can be reached here).
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